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Town talks Johnny’s mediation

By Susan Dickson
Staff Writer
CARRBORO – Having received both complaints about and statements of support for Johnny’s, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen on Tuesday voted unanimously to look into using mediation to resolve the ongoing conflict between some neighbors of the property and the business.

Owners of the West Main Street shop have said they are no longer pursuing zoning that would allow them to sell beer and wine for on-site consumption – a point of contention for some neighbors of the property – but that they are looking into a possible rezoning as a neighborhood business or permit options that would allow them to have acoustic music outside, beer and wine tastings and other events.

Johnny’s closed last summer after former co-owner Brian Plaster parted ways with co-owner Jan Halle, with Plaster saying he ran into issues with noise and parking as the West Main Street shop became a popular gathering spot.

Halle then partnered with locals Erica Eisdorfer and Kevin Morgan to reopen Johnny’s as Johnny’s Gone Fishing earlier this year. Since then, Kevin Morgan, Duncan Morgan and Meghan Truesdell have taken over management of the business under the new name Johnny’s 3.0.

Under Plaster’s ownership, Johnny’s sold beer and wine on site with an ABC license that town officials have said was not reviewed by town zoning staff before it was approved.

The property – 901 W. Main St. – is actually zoned residential, but Johnny’s had been permitted to continue operating there because the Johnny’s that occupied the space for many years – a bait and tackle shop – was at one time in line with the zoning for the property, which changed to residential a number of years ago.

Because the business predated the zoning change, it was allowed to continue operating with previously approved uses – which don’t include on-site alcohol consumption – under provisions of the zoning ordinance.

The new owners had hoped to sell beer and wine on site, but town staff said they would need to seek a rezoning in order to do so. However, a number of neighbors of the property have complained to the town about beer and wine consumption on the property, saying they feared it could turn the site into a bar or nightclub and that it previously caused problems with parking and noise in the residential neighborhood. In addition, some neighbors have expressed concern about outdoor music or other events.

Devan Clark, a resident of Kay Street whose home is about 300 feet from Johnny’s, wrote in an email to the board of aldermen that under Plaster’s management he could hear crowd noise from Johnny’s inside his house.

“It has been so pleasant to be able to walk outside or sit on my deck and not hear music, cheering and screaming people since Ms. Halle had a parting of ways with [Plaster],” he wrote. “With the newest 2012 Johnny’s, none of us want to go down that path again.”

“We really want to work with the neighborhood, so we said we’re not going to go for on-site alcohol,” Truesdell said, adding that they would like to restore beer and wine tastings to help them sell beer and wine for off-site consumption. The business previously had a permit for beer and wine tastings, but ABC revoked the permit last month after a neighbor complained that it was detrimental to the neighborhood.

Truesdell, who lives two doors down from Johnny’s on Westview Drive, said she feels that the business can peacefully coexist with the neighborhood with outdoor acoustic music and small events and that she and Duncan Morgan, co-managers of the business, would welcome conversations with neighbors.

“We don’t even think that the taxpayers’ money needs to be wasted in mediation if they would just come and talk to us,” she said.

In addition, Truesdell said the music they hope to host would only be acoustic, while previous music at Johnny’s had been amplified.

“If we had acoustic music on the back porch, that would be softer than traffic going by,” she said. Truesdell added that counselors from the adult group home across the street have told her how nice it was to bring residents to Johnny’s to listen to music and socialize, instead of getting in the car to go to Weaver Street Market.

Other events Truesdell said she would like for Johnny’s to host include classes and talks, movie nights and a craft market.

“We want to be a community hub,” she said.

Board members said they would like to see owners of Johnny’s and neighbors of the property go through mediation to resolve concerns, and asked Town Manager David Andrews to talk with the Dispute Settlement Center to determine how much the mediation would cost and determine how it would be funded.

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